We’ve pointed out in a previous post, that the essential goal of encouraging people to learn in the Shul could have the unintended side effect of downsizing the functionality of our Shuls to drive-thru davening and chavrusa centers. The problem is that the resulting structure is often missing services and does not always accommodate a Rav, who’s role is indispensable for the community.
Our Shul’s solution evolved over time. By sharing it, perhaps it will provide a foundation for others to build a lasting and effective Shul structure. When we were planning our new Shul building 14 years ago, the issue of what type of seating was intensively discussed. We were moving from a High School basement with tables to a beautiful new building. The membership was split between tables and the pew style seating, commonly found in larger Shuls. At the same time a large Shul in Jackson Heights, Queens was moving to a smaller location and they offered us all their pews in exchange for a small donation and coverage of the moving expenses.
We went with the pews as an interim solution because of cost and capacity considerations. This decision was made over the protestations of an active board member, who warned it would be like “Aunt Sadie’s hand me down couch” and we’ll never get rid of them. Over the years the pro-tables contingent tried a few plans to replace the pews with tables. None were successful, largely because some very involved members wanted to keep a Shul feeling in our new building.
Fast forward a few years and we implemented a weekday Community Beis Medrash in the Shul. We wanted to provide a place for people to feel comfortable learning either before or after our weekday 9:30pm Maariv. We also created a number of chaburas, where members would give interactive shiurim to small groups. To accommodate the Beis Medrash, every Motza’ei Shabbos we would flip over some pews to make room for folding tables for learning – certainly not an optimal solution.
This went on for a few years and we would on occasion raise the table issue with our architect-by-profession member who was instrumental in the initial beautiful design of our Shul. One day he came up with a great solution, we would have Lavi type pews in the front of the Shul and tables in the back. The tables are 15 inches wide, forward facing on Shabbos and we double them together to create a Beis Medrash environment during the week.
The solution worked out well because we have the full feel of a Makom Tefillah on Shabbos and a Beis Medrash during the week. People were able to choose whether they preferred to sit at tables or at the extremely comfortable and functional pews. Although I’m minimizing the implementation process, at the end of the day it was a great solution.